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- The Golden Lion of Granpere - 4/36 -
'And will not Mademoiselle Marie sit down with us?' said the young man.
'If you can make her, you have more influence than I,' said Michel. 'Marie never sits, and never eats, and never drinks.' She was standing now close behind her uncle with both her hands upon his head; and she would often stand so after the supper was commenced, only moving to attend upon him, or to supplement the services of Peter and the maid-servant when she perceived that they were becoming for a time inadequate to their duties. She answered her uncle now by gently pulling his ears, but she said nothing.
'Sit down with us, Marie, to oblige me,' said Madame Voss.
'I had rather not, aunt. It is foolish to sit at supper and not eat. I have taken my supper already.' Then she moved away, and hovered round the two strangers at the end of the room. After supper Michel Voss and the young man--Adrian Urmand by name--lit their cigars and seated themselves on a bench outside the front door. 'Have you never said a word to her?' said Michel.
'Well;--a word; yes.'
'But you have not asked her--; you know what I mean;--asked her whether she could love you.'
'Well,--yes. I have said as much as that, but I have never got an answer. And when I did ask her, she merely left me. She is not much given to talking.'
'She will not make the worse wife, my friend, because she is not much given to such talking as that. When she is out with me on a Sunday afternoon she has chat enough. By St. James, she'll talk for two hours without stopping when I'm so out of breath with the hill that I haven't a word.'
'I don't doubt she can talk.'
'That she can; and manage a house better than any girl I ever saw. You ask her aunt.'
'I know what her aunt thinks of her. Madame Voss says that neither you nor she can afford to part with her.'
Michel Voss was silent for a moment. It was dusk, and no one could see him as he brushed a tear from each eye with the back of his hand. 'I'll tell you what, Urmand,--it will break my heart to lose her. Do you see how she comes to me and comforts me? But if it broke my heart, and broke the house too, I would not keep her here. It isn't fit. If you like her, and she can like you, it will be a good match for her. You have my leave to ask her. She brought nothing here, but she has been a good girl, a very good girl, and she will not leave the house empty-handed.'
Adrian Urmand was a linen-buyer from Basle, and was known to have a good share in a good business. He was a handsome young man too, though rather small, and perhaps a little too apt to wear rings on his fingers and to show jewelry on his shirt-front and about his waistcoat. So at least said some of the young people of Granpere, where rings and gold studs are not so common as they are at Basle. But he was one who understood his business, and did not neglect it; he had money too; and was therefore such a young man that Michel Voss felt that he might give his niece to him without danger, if he and she could manage to like each other sufficiently. As to Urmand's liking, there was no doubt. Urmand was ready enough.
'I will see if she will speak to me just now,' said Urmand after a pause.
'Shall her aunt try it, or shall I do it?' said Michel.
But Adrian Urmand thought that part of the pleasure of love lay in the making of it himself. So he declined the innkeeper's offer, at any rate for the present occasion. 'Perhaps,' said he, 'Madame Voss will say a word for me after I have spoken for myself.'
'So let it be,' said the landlord. And then they finished their cigars in silence.
It was in vain that Adrian Urmand tried that night to obtain audience from Marie. Marie, as though she well knew what was wanted of her and was determined to thwart her lover, would not allow herself to be found alone for a moment. When Adrian presented himself at the window of her little bar, he found that Peter was with her, and she managed to keep Peter with her till Adrian was gone. And again, when he hoped to find her alone for a few moments after the work of the day was over in the small parlour where she was accustomed to sit for some half hour before she would go up to her room, he was again disappointed. She was already up-stairs with her aunt and the children, and all Michel Voss's good nature in keeping out of the way was of no avail.
But Urmand was determined not to be beaten. He intended to return to Basle on the next day but one, and desired to put this matter a little in forwardness before he took his departure. On the following morning he had various appointments to keep with countrymen and their wives, who sold linen to him, but he was quick over his business and managed to get back to the inn early in the afternoon. From six till eight he well knew that Marie would allow nothing to impede her in the grand work of preparing for supper; but at four o'clock she would certainly be sitting somewhere about the house with her needle in her hand. At four o'clock he found her, not with her needle in her hand, but, better still, perfectly idle. She was standing at an open window, looking out upon the garden as he came behind her, standing motionless with both hands on the sill of the window, thinking deeply of something that filled her mind. It might be that she was thinking of him.
'I have done with my customers now, and I shall be off to Basle to- morrow,' said he, as soon as she had looked round at the sound of his footsteps and perceived that he was close to her.
'I hope you have bought your goods well, M. Urmand.'
'Ah! for the matter of that the time for buying things well is clean gone. One used to be able to buy well; but there is not an old woman now in Alsace who doesn't know as well as I do, or better, what linen is worth in Berne and Paris. They expect to get nearly as much for it here at Granpere.'
'They work hard, M. Urmand, and things are dearer than they were. It is well that they should get a price for their labour.'
'A price, yes: --but how is a man to buy without a profit? They think that I come here for their sakes,--merely to bring the market to their doors.' Then he began to remember that he had no special object in discussing the circumstances of his trade with Marie Bromar, and that he had a special object in another direction. But how to turn the subject was now a difficulty.
'I am sure you do not buy without a profit,' said Marie Bromar, when she found that he was silent. 'And then the poor people, who have to pay so dear for everything!' She was making a violent attempt to keep him on the ground of his customers and his purchases.
'There was another thing that I wanted to say to you, Marie,' he began at last abruptly.
'Another thing,' said Marie, knowing that the hour had come.
'Yes;--another thing. I daresay you know what it is. I need not tell you now that I love you, need I, Marie? You know as well as I do what I think of you.'
'No, I don't,' said Marie, not intending to encourage him to tell her, but simply saying that which came easiest to her at the moment.
'I think this,--that if you will consent to be my wife, I shall be a very happy man. That is all. Everybody knows how pretty you are, and how good, and how clever; but I do not think that anybody loves you better than I do. Can you say that you will love me, Marie? Your uncle approves of it,--and your aunt.' He had now come quite close to her, and having placed his hand behind her back, was winding his arm round her waist.
'I will not have you do that, M. Urmand,' she said, escaping from his embrace.
'But that is no answer. Can you love me, Marie?'
'No,' she said, hardly whispering the word between her teeth.
'And is that to be all?'
'What more can I say?'
'But your uncle wishes it, and your aunt. Dear Marie, can you not try to love me?'
'I know they wish it. It is easy enough for a girl to see when such things are wished or when they are forbidden. Of course I know that uncle wishes it. And he is very good;--and so are you, I daresay. And I'm sure I ought to be very proud, because you are so much above me.'
'I am not a bit above you. If you knew what I think, you wouldn't say so.'
'Well, Marie. Think a moment, dearest, before you give me an answer that shall make me either happy or miserable.'
'I have thought. I would almost burn myself in the fire, if uncle wished it.'
'And he does wish this.'
'But I cannot do this even because he wishes it.'
'Why not, Marie?'
'I prefer being as I am. I do not wish to leave the hotel, or to be married at all.'
'Nay, Marie, you will certainly be married some day.'
'No; there is no such certainty. Some girls never get married. I am of use here, and I am happy here.'
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